Islamabad: Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was sworn-in as the 23rd prime minister of Pakistan on Monday, hours after ousted premier Imran Khan’s lawmakers resigned en masse, signalling continued political instability in the coup-prone country.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani administered the oath of office to 70-year-old Shehbaz in President Dr Arif Alvi’s absence, who went on ‘sick’ leave ahead of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader’s inauguration.
Alvi, who belongs to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan, had dissolved the National Assembly on advise of then prime minister Khan. He was advised to continue discharging his constitutional duties by his party.
Earlier, the National Assembly elected Shehbaz as the new prime minister after his rival candidate from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party Shah Mahmood Qureshi boycotted the voting to elect the premier.
“Sharif has secured 174 votes and has been declared as prime minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” said Speaker Ayaz Sadiq who presided over the session after Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri said his conscience did not allow him to conduct the session.
In the House of 342, the winning candidate should get support of at least 172 lawmakers.
Shehbaz will now form a new government that can remain in place until elections are due in August 2023. However, most of his allies are keen for early elections.
The process of electing the new leader of the house began on Sunday after Khan was removed from office through a no-confidence vote, becoming the first premier in the country’s history to be sent home after losing the trust of the House.
Pakistan has struggled with political instability since its formation in 1947 with multiple regime changes and military coups. No prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
The new prime minister would have to face not only the unruly PTI taking to the streets but a brittle economy that needs a very careful handling. There are a lot of expectations of the masses from the new leadership to control inflation, which is a tough task.
Shehbaz’s PML-N has only 86 seats and the rest of numerical support has come from the coalition partners who apparently has nothing in common except their rivalry for Khan, and it will be a big challenge for him to keep them calm and satisfied.
Soon after his election, Shehbaz in his inaugural speech in Parliament raised the issue of abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and alleged that the people in the Valley were bleeding and Pakistan will provide them with “diplomatic and moral support” besides raising the matter at every international fora.
Shehbaz, the younger brother of former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said he wanted good relations with India, but it cannot be achieved without the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
He attacked Khan for not making “serious and diplomatic efforts” when India abrogated the Article 370 in August 2019.
“When the forceful encroachment was done in August 2019 and Article 370 was abrogated, what serious efforts did we make…what serious diplomacy did we try…Kashmiris’ blood is flowing on roads of Kashmir and the Kashmir Valley is red with their blood,” he said.
Shehbaz also asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come forward to address the Kashmir issue so that the two countries could concentrate on tackling poverty, unemployment, shortage of medicines and other issues.
Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulate Shehbaz.
“Congratulations to H. E. Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on his election as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. India desires peace and stability in a region free of terror, so that we can focus on our development challenges and ensure the well-being and prosperity of our people,” Modi tweeted.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also congratulated Shehbaz.
The younger Sharif is known as an able administrator who served thrice as chief minister of Punjab, the largest province of the country and greatly transformed the road infrastructure of the province.
Unlike his brother Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz enjoys cordial relations with the powerful army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 75 years of existence and has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy, according to experts.
The successful completion of the process to carry through the no-confidence motion and elect the new leader of the house has for the time being ended the political instability. But the resignation by PTI and its decision to launch protest rallies has seeds of a fresh round of chaos.
Members of Khan’s party took out rallies in several cities of Pakistan on Sunday to protest his ouster through the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition.
Protest rallies were organised in cities like Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Malakand, Multan Khanewal, Khyber, Jhang and Quetta, with demonstrators shouting slogans against the Opposition.
Khan on Sunday tweeted that today marked the beginning of a “freedom struggle” against what he said was a “foreign conspiracy of regime change” in Pakistan.
Foreign policy challenges are also no less daunting for Shehbaz, especially after the allegations of former prime minister Khan against the US in the context of conspiracy to remove him.
In his speech in Parliament, Shehbaz said Pakistan enjoyed a historical relationship with the US and would never like to spoil it despite many ups and downs in the relations.
“We want to expand the relations on the basis of equality,” he said.
He talked about the special relations with China, calling the country as “the most faithful friend and a partner through thick and thin”.
“No matter what happens, no one can deprive the two countries of their friendship This friendship will last till the day of judgment,” he said.
He also announced to speed up work on the projects being under the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
He also urged the world to help Afghanistan and expressed his fears that any instability in Afghanistan would impact Pakistan in the form of an influx of refugees.
Shehbaz also highlighted special ties with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, Iran, the UK, the EU and the Gulf countries and said Pakistan would build ties and expand relations.
On the domestic front, he announced that a high-level briefing would be organised for the parliament to ascertain facts about the “conspiracy” for foreign intervention for regime change in Pakistan as alleged by Khan and his party.
To support the low paid workers and pensioners, he announced to increase the minimum wage to Rs 25,000 and a 10 per cent increase in pension of former civil and military employees. He also announced a subsidy on flour for the poor during the month of Ramzan.
Shehbaz’s strength flows from various political parties – the former combined opposition that are behind him. His historical good ties with the establishment would also be an asset to deal with the multiple challenges.